Pump jockey to app developer

Sipho Koza, an iOS Mobile developer who works for a British company was born and raised in Mpumalanga – formerly the Eastern Transvaal – in a small village called Goederede (well-known as Bundu Inn) in KwaNdebele. Sipho has two older brothers and three sisters – all of his sisters passed away at the very young age. His father worked at Green Side mine in Witbank until 1992. After a car accident, he couldn’t work again.

Sipho says: ‘Growing up was very difficult. As a child and living at home, I had to sell snacks at school since standard 1 (grade 3), just to bring some income for my family. In standard 6 (Grade 8), my mom decided to open a spaza shop next to our school so I could focus on my studies.

I never had the chance to mingle with other kids. I had to take my mom to the spaza shop every morning and back home again after school. On Saturdays, my mom would buy stock at Marabastad in Pretoria and when she got home, we would prepare the snacks for the next week. Sunday was church. That was my life growing up in a nutshell.’

Sipho didn’t have a vision of life beyond simply surviving as best they could. After matric (grade 12), like most of the guys from the area, he did piece jobs like plastering, building, tiling and painting. While doing this work, he was discouraged by the community who knew he could do more than just piece jobs. Working around the village, many recognised he could do much more and Sipho understood that life without education was not possible. Sipho replaced piece work with a job at a petrol station, where he worked for almost five years, saving money to further his studies. 

Working as a cashier at the garage, he decided to enroll with a college for distance learning. That fell through when Sipho’s questions concerning the course were not answered and he was not given an option to reroute to a better-suited course. Undaunted, he registered with Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) for an Information Technology (IT) course, although he didn’t know what IT was. His logic was that since he was good as a cashier at the till point, he assumed that it was IT. Only after he registered did he realise that IT is way more than just typing and printing. In fact, what he realised he had a very basic general knowledge in IT. 

His registration and acceptance at TUT was late (after the distance learning college had let him down) and he was therefore rejected for financial assistance since he didn’t appear in the list of the people who had been accepted for the course. He tried banks and other institutions for financial help but had no success. In March there was a strike on campus for the financial aid scheme to add more students because so many students didn’t have money for fees. Sipho knew the money he saved working at the garage would not even cover fees for 1 semester, so he accepted an opportunity to get financial aid from National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). That’s how Sipho’s life changed from existing, along with his buddies doing piece work, to creating a life – a life he could shape as he wanted.

Although my mother wanted a better future for me, she didn’t like the idea of me going to varsity. She felt that she wouldn’t be able to afford me when I’m at varsity. 

During his time at varsity, he played soccer and was on the varsity team. He was getting R500 a month from home and it was way too little for him to survive. On weekends, he worked as a sales consultant at Truworths in Menlyn Park Shopping Centre. In his 3rd year at varsity, Mr Hans, a former lecturer, appointed Sipho as his assistant for the module, Project Management. Sipho regards Mr Hans as a godsend – a saviour to help him shape-up his life and prepare him to face the real world. This opportunity was a huge learning experience.

Sipho did his in-service (internship) training at TUT where he was exposed to mobile development. As part of the syllabus to finish his diploma in Software Engineering Sipho was involved in developing Microsoft apps. And the App-bug bit! This is where he developed his love for mobile development and since then, he wants nothing else but mobile development!

In his last year at varsity when he was about to finish his course, his mother passed away. ‘I felt lost, I felt empty, I cried, I questioned my life, I questioned my belief, I lost faith and I asked myself lot of questions that there were no answers to.’ He continued, ‘My mom passed away before I could make her proud, before I could thank her for everything that she sacrificed for my family and for me as an individual. This is eating me every time I think about her and I cry. She is the reason for who I am today, she was my iMbokotho (My Rock) and I miss her every minute of my life.’

‘My family background couldn’t hold me back from doing what I wanted to do when I focused on the goal I wanted to achieve. Background doesn’t determine a person’s future. Only you as an individual can shape your future.’

After Sipho finished his course, he got an internship at Business Connexion. He was appointed as an iOS Mobile developer intern because he had C++ programming language. He developed more love for mobile after this opportunity. He has worked for big companies like Tracker SA and Prosense Technology to name a few. He has also developed mobile apps likes kids Aid app, Sales Catalogue, Power Of X, TransUnion and Impression signatures.

Sipho believes in order to live like a king, you have to work your socks off. ‘Never wish for what your time and effort can’t afford’ – Sipho Koza. Life is a journey and you have to keep going in order for you to reach your final destination. He wishes his two kids (uNathi and Bokamoso) to live life to their fullest and realise their dreams at a very early age so he can help them fulfill their dreams.

By Sipho Koza

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